One of the questions constantly facing archeologists is why a site is located in a specific place. For instance, let’s look at a few sites located on some of the old terraces. I can think back to the days when we were making the survey for the Richland/Chambers Lake Project. We found a number of sites located on T-1, 15 to 25 feet, and T-2 terraces, 30 to 45 feet high above the floodplain. In nearly every case, the T-1 (lower) terraces had a site covering most if not all of the terrace while the T-2 (higher) terraces usually had a site on the top of the terrace and another site located at the base of the slope very near the floodplain. Also an occasional small site might be found halfway downslope. One other requirement was needed for there to be a site midway or near the base of the terrace; there needed to be a relatively flat area at either location.

I can think of at least five sites now covered by the waters contained in Richland-Chambers Reservoir which conform to the above description. 41 FT 201 otherwise known as Bird Point Island is the first of these that come to mind. This site contained one of the two recorded Wylie Focus Pit Houses recorded in the lake. The pit house was placed on the north side of the terrace facing away from the current channel of Richland Creek. Does this mean when the pit house was dug by the Native American inhabitants around 2,000 years ago, Richland Creek’s main channel was on the north side of the terrace? If this was the case, the channel would have to make a large bend to pass by to the west of the terrace back in those days. When we made the survey, there wasn’t any evidence of an old channel visible north of the terrace. A second option might be there was an old slough located on the north side near the base of the terrace. At the time when Southern Methodist University was excavating the pit house and parts of the surrounding terrace, no one gave any thought as to why the pit house was located on the opposite side of the terrace from the current channel of Richland Creek. A few backhoe trenches placed in the floodplain to the north of the terrace would have settled the question.

Needless to say, there was a lot of cultural material recovered around the pit house on the top of the terrace. Most of the artifacts dated to the Late Prehistoric time period, i.e. from around 500 A.D. to 1,500 A.D. There were a few dart points recovered in the same area, mostly Gary points which date to 2,000 B.C. to 500 A.D. However other Late Archaic points were also found. This is perfectly normal to find a site with two or more occupations spanning several thousand years. One of the archeological crews from SMU spent several seasons excavating the top of this terrace around the pit house but they did not address any of the lower areas.

Located along and parallel to the southern edge of the terrace was a 20-foot wide shallow slough. We refer to these sloughs as hillside sloughs. Every time it rains, water runs off of the terrace down to the base of the terrace. Instead of fanning out across the floodplain, the runoff water turns and starts running southeast with the base of the terrace. Nearly all of our streams in Texas travel from northwest to southeast at the rate of approximately one foot per mile. This means the entire floodplain of each creek and river locally has about the same amount of tilt to the southeast. This slight tilt is the reason the hillside sloughs are formed.

Bird Point Island was a classic case! Late Archaic and Late Prehistoric occupations at the top of the terrace and Early Archaic artifacts at the base of the site next to the hillside slough. I wanted the archeologists to at least put in a few test excavations next to the slough but they were committed to working the pit house area along with a second pit house officially known as 41 NV 177, the Adams Ranch site.

I like all of the different time periods in archeology but my first preference is for the older and harder to find Paleo and Early Archaic sites. When the land owner of both sites cleared the land with a bulldozer, the dozer operator pushed all of the timber on each site downhill and out into the floodplain. At the time everything was extremely dry and the hillside slough did not contain any water which allowed the dozer to pass across the slough without encountering a lot of mud. In some places the operator dipped the dozer blade down into the slough so he would not have a problem with any mud. This dipping process cut several feet into the buried floodplain. On a couple of occasions, we went out into the floodplain to look for artifacts in the dried mud where the dozer had deposited the debris. Sure enough an occasional dart point or fragment was found, never in any great quantity but a few projectile points. The surprising thing was each dart point belonged to the middle or early Archaic time frame. Most of the points were either Yarbroughs or Wells points. Just like the site I wrote about last week on Denton Creek near Lewisville, the early Archaic components seemed to be located at the base of the hills and terraces covered by floodplain silt. Several tests were conducted by the soil scientist is the floodplain of Richland and Chambers Creek in an effort to determine how much silt is deposited and how far the archeologists would have to dig before they stood a chance of locating a buried Native American site. It turned out there are four and a half to five feet of silt deposited in the floodplains of both creeks dating to the last 160 years. The soil scientist also determined the origin of this silt was due to the settlers and more recently, the farmers clearing and plowing land, especially before the advent of placing terraces across the hillsides to prevent erosion. Most terracing did not start until around 1940 therefore our first hundred years of settlement in this area allowed tons and tons of soil to wash away only to be redeposited in the stream floodplains.

41 NV 177 known as the Adam Ranch site was different yet similar in several ways to Bird Point Island. The site contained a pit house but it was not nearly as large as the one on Bird Point. Also when the terrace was cleaned of brush and trees, the debris was not pushed into the floodplain but piled up on the slope of the terrace for burning. However a few years later, the land owner took a large trackhoe to the site and dug out the hillside slough so it would drain properly. This excavation work went seven to eight feet deep into the floodplain. After a good washing rain, we found several Yarbrough and Wells points lying on the back dirt piles, an identical situation to Bird Point, early to middle Archaic material buried in the edge of the floodplain.

Next week: Several other buried floodplain sites

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